Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, Gwanda Correspondent
MACHETE-wielding gangs have caused much damage in a number of communities over the past few months, mostly in mining areas where they have been targeting miners and robbing them of their gold and other valuables.
Some miners have lived to tell tales of their traumatic experiences at the hands of the violent gangs while others, unfortunately, lost their lives.
A group of nine men who were armed with machetes and knives recently invaded a mine compound in West Nicholson and robbed mine workers. The gang went to Coatsbridge Mine Compound in West Nicholson on February 8 where they robbed two mine workers who were sleeping in makeshift tents and left with 5,6 grammes of toasted gold, two cellphones, R7 000 and $1 000.
In December last year, a group of four machete wielding robbers attacked workers at Bushpark Mine in Colleen Bawn and stole two cellphones after they failed to get cash.
The gang which was armed with machetes and knobkerries attacked two mine workers while they were sleeping in their tents and fled after the mine workers had teamed up in a bid to retaliate.
It was reported that a group of nine robbers attacked miners in Cleveland Mine and Bushpark Mine in Colleen Bawn and left with R25 000, $1 200, gold among other property.
The gang which was armed with machetes, axes, knobkerries, catapults and stones invaded two mines on February 6 at around 12 midnight and on the following day at around 2AM. In the process, they struck one miner four times with a machete on the head demanding cash until he lost consciousness.
Mr Qinisela Ncube (34) from Phakama suburb in Gwanda is lucky to be alive although his encounter with a machete gang has left him traumatised. Three months after the incident occurred, Mr Ncube who is a mine labourer, says he still feels unsafe when conducting his work as he doesn’t know when he will be attacked next.
He said he and eight workmates were on their way home after working at a mine in Colleen Bawn when they were attacked by a group of about 15 men who were armed with machetes and axes.
Mr Ncube said he managed to escape unharmed but he lost R2 500, money he said he had realised after working for two weeks.
“I’m a mine labourer and I’ve been doing this work for seven years. I’ve been using the money I earn to take care of my family. The incident occurred on December 14 last year at Bushpark Mine in Collen Bawn where I had been working with eight other men for two weeks. We started digging for gold ore on November 28 and managed to get a seven tonne load of gold ore.
“We received our payments and left the mine at around 9PM, headed to our homes. Along the way we were ambushed by a gang of about 15 men who had machetes and axes. They assaulted my workmates who were in the front and demanded all our cash. We complied fearing that they would harm us. I surrendered R2 500 to them, it was the money I had worked for all those days,” he said.
Mr Ncube said he suspected that their attackers had information on their operations. He said since that incident, he was living in fear when working as he did not know when he would be attacked and robbed next.
The attack, he said, left him terrified as he thought they could be killed when he saw the gang armed with machetes and axes. He said it was his first time to have such an encounter.
Mr Thabang Moyo (30), a co-owner of a claim at Vova Mine in Gwanda said he lost seven tonnes of gold ore which was about to be processed to a gang of over 15 machete wielding robbers in January.
Mr Moyo said they had hired labourers who had worked for three weeks digging up the gold ore when the gang attacked.
“I’m a co-owner of a claim in Vova Mine and that’s my source of income. We hire labourers who do the digging, we buy explosives, buy food for our labourers, then we take the gold ore for processing at a stamp mill. The ore that was stolen from us was a very good sample and we had anticipated on getting a lot of money after selling it.
“We had a group of labourers at the mine who had just finished digging up seven tonnes of gold ore and it was ready to be processed. A group of over 15 men who were armed with machetes is said to have arrived at the mine in three vehicles in the middle of the night and attacked our workers who were forced to flee from the mine. The robbers loaded the gold ore into their vehicles and they fled,” he said.
Mr Moyo said he suspected that the robbers had been supplied with information that there was a good sample of gold ore at the mine. He said it had become a trend for the machete gangs to attack mines that had good samples of gold ore.
Mr Moyo said it had become difficult for miners to operate freely, even with the necessary paperwork, as these gangs could pounce anytime.
“It’s so difficult and discouraging to operate under such conditions. Our men had worked for three weeks and we lost a lot of money and resources to ensure that we realised that gold ore but then we lost it all to the robbers. The perpetrators will be coming from other districts and provinces. We reported the matter to the police but when I last checked, no arrests had been made and we don’t know where the gold ore went.
“There are rumours that there are some stamp mills in the area that process gold ore even for people that don’t have prospecting licences,” he said.
Ms Sithokozile Masilela, the secretary for Simalu Mining Association said a lot of violence is happening in mining areas caused by armed gangs and there was need for the leadership in the province to come up with strategies to address the problem.
Small scale miners in Matabeleland South province recently called for heavy police presence in mining areas due to the rampant cases of robberies by the gangs.
They said there was need for police to establish bases in mining areas, to increase patrols in hot spots where the robberies were mostly being recorded and enforce bans against possession of dangerous weapons.
Zimbabwe Miners Federation secretary general, Mr Philemon Mokwele said there was need for stakeholders to come up with solutions to address the problem of machete gangs.
“We called together various stakeholders that comprise police, miners, traditional leaders, Ministry of Mines officials, local authority and other Government departments. We came up with resolutions on how we can address this problem working together as various stakeholders. We understand that police don’t have enough resources and we all should chip in. Among the resolutions is the need for miners and traditional leaders to establish crime consultative committees in hot spot areas which will be working with police. There’s also need for mine owners to register their workers so that there’s transparency. Miners should also be issued with identity cards,” he said.
Mr Mokwele stressed the need for vetting of miners by police adding that the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development should regularise use of metal detectors as at the moment, they can be accessed by anyone including those who are not miners.
He said this resulted in illegal mining activities and some cases of violence in mining areas erupting after discovery of gold through use of the detectors.
Small scale miners, Mr Mokwele said, were huge contributors to the economy but if they are forced not to operate at night when most raids occur, it meant their production would drop thereby affecting the country’s fiscus. — @DubeMatutu